When Traditional Research Trumps Big Data
Big data mining, online communities, predictive analytics, and other contemporary research tools and practices might dominate business news and workplace chatter, but a centuries-old, tried-and-true research method is also attracting its fair share of attention.
As companies seek out research methods that allow them to push beyond the “what” that’s now so readily accessible in digitized customer data to the “why” and the “how” that can best be determined by getting closer to customers’ behaviors, ethnography is experiencing a resurgence. Companies such as Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, and Intel now employ in-house anthropologists and consumer psychologists to study consumer behavior. Other companies, including Samsung, Microsoft, Adidas, and Lego, employ research firms that specialize in ethnography. One such firm, Red Associates (based in Copenhagen and New York), has shadowed consumers in London and Shanghai to help Intel measure social networking’s impact on the use of mobile devices and has visited house parties in Europe to help Pernod Ricard sell more vodka to baby boomers.
This kind of high-touch research doesn’t come cheap: Red charges $250,000 to $300,000 a month for its services. According to Maritz Research, a fully loaded ethnographic research study could range between $25,000 and $90,000, depending on the target audience and size of the program.
The Paris office of Landor Associates, a global branding firm, spends anywhere from €5,000 for a concept or product name test in an ethnographic setting to €150,000 for in-depth, yearlong ethnographic studies. The cost is worth it, though, because ethnographic research offers insight that digital research or traditional focus groups don’t, says Luc Speisser, managing director of Landor’s Paris office. “People talking about packaging or ideas behind a hidden mirror is probably not the best context to make them comfortable and get them to tell the truth. It’s quite an artificial situation.” BMW recognized that its customers were demanding better retail experiences and set about creating a more inspiring dealership. It opened its first reconceptualized BMW Brand Store in Brussels in 2014, introducing a multisensory interactive customer experience that is careful to be free of sales pressure. By highlighting BMW’s customization options, benefits, history, and post-sale services at all touchpoints, the new retail model lets customers know there’s no need to comparison shop.
In 2007, to provide richer consumer insights for clients such as Danone, Kraft Foods, Procter & Gamble, and Visa Europe, and to gather insights to win new business, Landor’s Paris office launched Landor Families, an ongoing ethnographic study of French families. For the past seven years, Landor has visited 11 families in their homes twice a year, peeking into their refrigerators and gathering information on their buying habits. The families also provide the agency with monthly updates on their day-to-day consumption, changes in behavior, and opinions on products, and Landor shares its findings with clients.
The multiyear study is a unique effort for Landor, but the firm has conducted shorter-term ethnographic projects, including an ethnographic study on sustainability habits for Procter & Gamble in Paris and London. Marketing News caught up with Speisser and Clément Chabert, strategy consultant at Landor’s Paris office, to discuss the project’s execution and resulting insights, and the future of ethnographic research.
To continue reading, download When Traditional Research Trumps Big Data